When can you return unwanted or broken goods? Warranties, guarantees and The Sale of Goods Act

A quick Be Clever Basics guide to when you can and can’t get a refund.

Got a broken dishwasher? TV on the blink? Or have you just changed your mind? It’s not always obvious when you can and when you can’t take things back to get a refund or replacement. Here are the essentials you need to know when you want to return unwanted or faulty purchases.

Returning things you don’t want

If you buy something in a shop, there’s no legal right to get a refund unless it’s broken or not fit for purpose. Lots of shops will have a goodwill policy, but some will only allow exchanges or a credit notice. Even then they don’t have to accept your return.

If you do want to take something back, make sure you have the receipt – it’s the proof you bought it. If you’ve lost it but paid by card you can try to use a bank or credit card statement as proof of purchase. You’ll normally have around 28 days.

You can return items bought online

Buying online actually gives you some extra rights. You have 14 days to return any item bought online, though that doesn’t count for anything personalised or perishable. The law on this is known as the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

Broken goods – what is a guarantee?

Most products come with a 12 month manufacturers guarantee. In that time the manufacturer can repair or replace your broken item.

Contact the retailer first, though they may tell you to contact the manufacturer directly. For expensive products, you probably need to register your guarantee when you buy it.

What is a warranty?

A warranty is the same as a guarantee, except this isn’t covered by the manufacturer. Instead you’re buying an insurance policy to protect your purchase.

What is an extended warranty?

Stay clear of extended warranties you have to buy. They rarely represent good value.

John Lewis, though, offers a free extra year on electrical items it sells, and five years total on TVs.

How the Sale of Goods Act can help

The Sale of Goods Act requires things you buy to be fit for purpose, of satisfactory quality and match the description given. Even if the guarantee has ended, this law gives you further rights. You can get a refund, replacement or repair:

  • in the first four to five weeks if your item doesn’t meet the criteria
  • from five weeks to six months after you bought it, unless the retailer proves you caused the damage
  • after six months and up to six years, if you can prove the problems is with the item, not wear or tear.

It can be tricky to prove something shouldn’t have broken, though the law says you should expect it to last “a reasonable length of time”. If the retailer doesn’t agree, you can take it to the small claims court.

You need to contact the retailer and quote the Sales of Goods Act.

Credit card purchases have extra rights

Known as Section 75, anything you buy that costs between £100 and £30,000 with a credit card is protected. You don’t even need to have bought all of it on the card – just a deposit counts. This is handy if the retailer has gone out of business.

Complaining to the Consumer Ombudsmen

If you don’t think you’ve been treated fairly and can’t find a solution with the company, you can complain to the new Consumer Ombudsmen – essentially an independent service which provides dispute resolution. They’ll try solve it for you, or advise you of your next steps.

>> More about the Consumer Ombudsmen

If you want more detailed information on your rights, check out the Which? Consumer Rights guide.

2 thoughts on “When can you return unwanted or broken goods? Warranties, guarantees and The Sale of Goods Act

  1. Hi,

    “Stay clear of extended warranties you have to buy. They rarely represent good value”. Can you please elaborate?

    1. Hi Haha, in most cases you’re already protected. Sale of Goods Act, Section 75 and normal guarantees usually cover you. You might also find it’s cheaper to replace the item than pay for the extended warranty.


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